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2022 Big Sister of the Year: Julie Bogdanski

Posted 06/29/2022

If ever there was a watchword for a Big and Little Sister relationship, Julie and Joi’s would be “opportunity.” The pair have taken advantage of many opportunities with Big Sister Boston throughout their seven years together and each time their bond has grown and strengthened. Julie, a self-described introvert, describes Joi, 17, as an extrovert who has pushed Julie outside of her comfort zone on more than one occasion: from dancing in a flash mob in front of a crowd at the Prudential Center to joining Joi on stage at large events like our annual Big in Boston gala.

At first, Julie was the one to help Joi step outside her comfort zone and try new activities, but it wasn’t easy. “I had to talk to my Match Support Specialist a lot for ideas of what to do,” said Julie. Then she would come up with a few options of activities they could do together. Joi was always up for a new adventure and Julie soon realized how trusting and courageous her Little Sister was for never backing down from a novel activity. One of their first visits involved getting free tickets from the Boston Public Library, for the Boston Islands Harbor Ferry then travelling out to Spectacle Island to enjoy a day on the beach and exploring nature. “I had no idea just how much I was challenging Joi by simply getting on a boat,” said Julie.

Over time, that trust between Joi and her Big Sister has only grown stronger. Although Joi, an only child who lives with her mom, wasn’t sure who this “stranger” was in her house when they first met, Julie soon went from stranger to sister. “I was nervous when I met her, but I got to know Julie over time and it became a bond that can never be broken,” said Joi. “I say ‘my sister’ when I talk about Julie because she’s like a sister. As we kept going out and trying new things, I realized that’s what a sister is supposed to do.”

The more new opportunities they tried, the more Joi’s confidence shone through. She never shied away from a chance to use her voice: from joining her school’s debate team to introducing Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton at Big in Boston in 2017. Most recently, with Julie’s encouragement, Joi joined Big Sister’s Junior Advisory Board, a support system and resource for Little Sisters where members seek to uplift their voices, and empower each other through courageous communication, self-love, wellness, and respect. She is the Board’s co-secretary. Joi is also part of the Our Big Futures program where she receives coaching and guidance from our dedicated staff about post-secondary options: college, careers, and scholarships. She is hoping to join a teacher cadet program that will allow her to work with kids while training to become a teacher.

As their relationship progressed, Julie and Joi relied less on activities to build trust and more on conversation. “Initially it felt like we’re hanging out, going on all these adventures together, both trying new things and building that relationship,” said Julie. “And then somewhere over the years, there was this magical moment where you feel like someone’s been in your life forever. Eventually, it just came to feel like Joi really is my sister.” They started a Friday night tradition of making tacos, watching movies, and just having “chill time” to check in with each other. When the height of the pandemic kept them physically apart and Joi — like so many girls — felt an acute sense of isolation, she knew she had a consistent friend in Julie. The two communicated regularly over the phone and Zoom chats. “She’s always there to support me. She’s always there at my lowest or if I’m having a moment; she’s always there to talk. Especially during Covid she was there when I was having ‘times’,” said Joi. “That’s a sister.”